Staff Reporter

Project officials told to stop work for three days

Thiruvananthapuram: Speakers at a high-level meeting held at the Collectorate here on Tuesday came down heavily on the Public Works Department (PWD) and the City Roads Improvement Project for the failure to protect the avenue trees lining the Museum-Kowdiar road.

Officials of the PWD and the Thiruvananthapuram Road Development Company Ltd. had to face the ire of MLAs, Forest officials and environmental activists for over an hour. Law Minister M. Vijayakumar said the road works had irreparably damaged the root system of the trees, leaving them tottering at the base.

In an emotional address, poet Sugathakumari accused the project officials of a lopsided approach to development. She said the failure to protect the trees in the city would deprive future generations of a valuable resource. "How can they be so mindless to the plight of pedestrians? Are all the people expected to travel only in air-conditioned vehicles?" she said. Ms. Sugathakumari alleged that the PWD and Trida had failed to honour their commitment to protect the trees while carrying out construction work on the road.

"By damaging the roots, they have made it imperative to cut down the trees to avoid accidents on the busy route," she said.

Public pressure

District Collector N. Ayyappan said most of the roots were dug up for the construction of side drains and cable ducts on the footpaths. He stressed the need to save as many trees as possible. Mayor C. Jayan Babu said the previous Government had done nothing to protect the trees, despite mounting public pressure.

Thiruvananthapuram East MLA V. Sivankutty said many of the trees were likely to collapse in the monsoon rain and strong winds. Thiruvananthapuram West MLA V. Surendran Pillai said the project was prepared by a Delhi-based company with little regard for the concerns and development priorities of the city.

The PWD officials admitted that 23 trees in danger of toppling over would have to be axed. They pointed out that most of the trees were already weakened by existing cable ducts. They added that the trees to be cut down for the project would be replaced with fresh saplings. Mr. Vijayakumar said the Government would be prepared to review the project if necessary.

The meeting constituted a committee headed by the Revenue Divisional Officer to carry out a site inspection to identify the unsafe trees on the road from the Museum junction to Kowdiar. The committee would include officials from the Social Forestry Department, the PWD, Kerala Road Fund Board and the City Corporation. Project officials have been directed to stop work on the entire stretch for three days till the committee submits its report.